Take Your Turn, Teddy Review

Updated: Apr 19

"No one knows your darkness like your own Shadow."



Our Horror Queen is in the chat!


She is ready to dish on all the gore and spooks her genre has to offer readers. She is a two-time horror author with a Young Adult and an Adult horror book under her belt. She is well-known in the writing community as a Vincent Price and Stephen King fangirl.


Ringing any bells?


Haley Newlin, the author of Not Another Sarah Halls, is back at it with an Adult Horror, Take Your Turn, Teddy that is sure to give you murderess nightmares.






Emily: What can readers expect from Take Your Turn, Teddy that they may have not gotten to see in Not Another Sarah Halls? Why is Take Your Turn, Teddy your Everest?


Haley: Take Your Turn, Teddy is my Everest because of how personal the story really is. Creating Teddy's character meant facing a lot of my own trauma. While I'm thankful for the experience and believe it changed my life, it was hard as hell. It was really the start of my steps toward recovery.



From the very beginning, in her Author's Note, Newlin creates a safe space for her readers. That may seem odd coming from a horror book, but with her writing the concept just makes sense. She is so vulnerable and raw with her connection to her audience and genre.


I love how open and natural Newlin is with her readers. She is completely down to earth about her mental health struggles. She shows that even in horror human emotions exist. She also shows her readers how to manage and fight those battles.



E: How did Not Another Sarah Halls and Take Your Turn, Teddy change your perception of mental health and how you want people to view that aspect in horror?


H: Not Another Sarah Halls is more of a feel-good story, while Take Your Turn, Teddy is more of a cautionary tale.


In writing Not Another Sarah Halls, I was still getting to know my own mental illness struggles. At this phase, all I really had was the experience and a singular word - anxiety.


In writing Take Your Turn, Teddy I had so much more. I had the lowest points of my life, the journey of digging up trauma, dissecting it. It was hell bringing these things back from the grave, suppressed memories, feelings I had always kept locked away.


But, more than anyone else, Teddy taught me that if we don't face our trauma, name it, know it, we become entombed by it.


The horror genre allowed me to build a physical manifestation of those whispers in my mind, the trauma trying to keep my head underwater, and above all, show how cunning it can really be.


E: Anxiety and Depression play a big role in NASH, how does this play into Teddy's fears and emotions in TYTT? Do you consider the shadow to be a manifestation of our fears, anxiety, and depression if so tell me why?


H: The Shadow is a manifestation of our fears, insecurities, but mostly, our vulnerabilities which for Teddy stems from unresolved trauma.


The Shadow is all about teaching Teddy to see betrayal from others, disappointment, and isolation as his constant - what he can expect in people. We know that's not really Teddy's voice, but it fills his head until he thinks of it as his own or a close friend.

PART ONE


Teddy is so complex for a ten-year-old main character. The reader is learning life lessons along with him. We are able to be right in his head and feelings in certain situations.


He is so understanding of his mom's emotions and struggles. He doesn't quite understand the source of her pain but he understands enough to be able to comfort her.


From showing the father-son relationship in chapter one as they were close at some point but a wedge sends Teddy's mind into questioning what he thinks of his dad. To showing the mom-son relationship as warm and comforting. They have a musical bond that is the gateway to helping them feel better and at ease while they are spending time together. This creates an off-balance family dynamitic, yet it works for the fallout of Teddy. Due to his struggles, readers can see his motives for what he later becomes in his story. Newlin sets up a grand background story that mirrors those of famous serial killers real and fiction.



E: Teddy is incredibly complex for a ten-year-old, how did you write and flesh out his character? How did your serial killer knowledge help you round out your story details?


H: Teddy's childhood character wasn't too hard to create. Growing up, I read every book I could get my hands on. In some ways, I guess that would've made me think about things in a way a kid a little older than me might. Also, I think trauma has a way of making you grow up.


When I first wrote Teddy's introduction scene, I was in a graduate English class. I had a peer say he feels too mature for his age. So, I tweaked the internal dialogue a bit, but I knew that meant I was on the right path.

Now, serial killer Teddy was a different story. I've logged hundreds, literally, of hours studying serial killers - particularly their psychology. It was so important to me that how Teddy killed and how the shadow took advantage of him was fitting to his struggle with trauma, confusion of his parents, and run-ins with abuse of someone he loves.


So, I made a sort of cocktail from Ted Bundy and Ed Gein's childhood trauma and psychology. You can sort of note which parts as Teddy doesn't have the initial bloodlust that Bundy is famous for - that fades in and out later on.




E: During PART ONE, Teddy meets and plays with the Shadow. Describe their relationship over the course of the book. What kind of arch did their relationship go through and what message do you want to convey to your readers through their relationship?


H: In the same way, in our low moments, we begin to trust the negative thoughts in our head as our own voice; Teddy does with the shadow.


He trusts these ideas of what it takes to survive, what it takes to never be alone, and for the shadow, that ultimately means killing.






Music is a key factor in my own writing, therefore I love how Newlin plugs in 1970s songs and earlier into Teddy's life. The Beatles, for instance, is his music of choice for comfort and reassurance that everything is going to be okay. Or that is what he hopes.


E: I know you love music, old-time music. What music inspired you for your 1970s setting and what are some songs that made it into the book?


H: I love, love questions like this. Tim Burton's film Dark Shadows inspired the 1970s setting of Take Your Turn, Teddy. There's a song in the opening, Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues (actually recorded in '67) that just felt so comforting to me. The scene had this somber sort of fog, and I immediately thought about writing a story in that era.


It's sort of funny because a lot of the music mentioned through the book, like The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," Peter, Paul, and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon," and the Mamas and the Papas "Dream a Little Dream of Me," actually came from the 60s.


It's sort of how songs from the early 2000s sort of shape what's around today. I love tracking that influence and progression in music.


Nothing has been normal for Teddy, not since discovering the harsh identity of the monster he had been living with his whole life—his own father. Teddy and his mother leave that behind to start over in a small Indiana township.


But as Teddy begins to learn of humanity's monsters, he unveils an otherworldly evil he calls "The Shadow." The Shadow tests Teddy's vulnerability and growing sense of isolation, poisoning his mind and conjuring a vile killer-in-the-making.


A year later, Officer Leonard Strode is called in to offer consultation on a case similar to the most brutal and scarring of those he’s worked on before.


One is the case of Jackie Warren, the other, Theodore “Teddy” Blackwood — two missing children. As he and two other officers follow the trail of clues, Strode is haunted by the ghosts of his own past and is horrified to find them wreaking havoc on his present.


When both Teddy and Strode finally meet face-to-face, they must confront their inner darkness as well or else be consumed by it.


Available on Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Store


*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***


{If you venture past this part too soon, you'll find out more of what becomes of Teddy. Heed my warning, pick up a copy of Take Your Turn, Teddy, before reading my thoughts on Teddy's downfall. You'll want to read the whole story first.}



PART TWO



Towards the end of Part One, trouble starts to escalate at the Blackwood House. Bloodshed and monsters unleashed will scary you to death, literally. Be aware of the danger ahead.


Newlin crafted Teddy's world with care and attention to every little detail. From what music is playing to how Teddy passes the time with friends and family. She thought of it all. She even thought about the unique downward spiral of men gone mad. I can argue that even Arthur Blackwood is a man gone mad in his own mind; he is tortured by mistakes. While his son, spirals down a different path. Father like son, maybe? But, I'll also argue that Teddy had the potential to be a better man than his father ever was. Yet, that isn't how it happened, is it?


Life didn't go as planned for Teddy and his parents. After considering his dad a hero and an upstanding Dad, Teddy's image of his father crumbles in a single afternoon. His mom is badly beaten by Mr. Blackwood, while he is away the following day, she takes Teddy and as much of their belonging as possible on a 15-hour drive. Their days are looking up and Teddy is making new friends both human and demonic. Things seem to be great and less scary in the house. They start to relax and settle into their new environment.


A stormy night turns from bad to worse when Mr. Blackwood stomps onto Teddy's mom's property while she is writing on the back porch. What a way to ruin a peaceful, stormy night.


This one wasn't for her news stories or articles she wrote at the Oakhaven Chronicles, but for a story, like the kind she used to read to him before bed. One with gentle dragons, fields of flowers, and children rescued from their homes to live out their childhood in peace and wonder. Teddy used to believe there was such a place, and there was such a gentle friend that could take him there. But he was learning that some things were too sweet for real life and could only exist in loopy gel ink on a page to fade with time.


Their argument escalates and nothing is left the same for the Blackwood's. Two dead bodies and buckets of blood later, the record player plays a Beatle's hit to fill the void.


Too afraid to face the police, the Shadow and Teddy combined forces and flee into the woods. 10-years old and already on the run.

Part Two picks up one year later and things are not okay at all. Strangely enough, I am getting Stranger Things vibes from the opening chapters. Although Teddy's story takes place in the 1970s, an entire decade before Eleven's, there are some interesting details that would fit into Stranger Things world perfectly.


A grumpy and hungover cop named Burklow and a rookie named Finch lead the pack to a murderous investigation in the woods. Burklow even steps onto the scene sporting a cigarette, just like Detective Hooper. It is the 1970s after all. Not only are their taste in accessories the same, but their trauma parallels in some ways, as well. Burklow is haunted by the disappearance of little Jackie Warren and the killing of her family. On the flip side, Hooper is overwhelmed by the loss of his little girl, Sarah, and the unexplainable disappearance of Will Byers. Both tore apart by tragedy and determined to find answers, they are stubborn when it comes to solving the case.


I love the atmosphere Newlin creates for her readers. She draws you into that time period with nods to their way of life - hungover headaches, dial phones in the kitchen, cops with cigarettes. The 1970s was a whole other world.


Horror Novel References


I initially created the idea of Take Your Turn, Teddy knowing I wanted to build a Georgie and Pennywise dynamic - the too trusting kid with the cunning monster.

- Haley Newlin


Newlin crafts such jaw-dropping characters that you forget the story is fiction. Her descriptions of scenery, action, and characters tie together to make an excellent glimpse into a horrific world. A world where nightmares come to life and play with reality.


Stephen King is one of Newlin's book model inspirations from which her clown creation stems from. Who am I referencing? IT. Pennywise. The clown who murders little children and terrorizes adults.


The murderous white-faced clown makes an appearance in Take Your Turn, Teddy, that is sure to scare anyone. Honestly, the demon clown scared me a lot. That's the point. Much like the Shadow and Teddy in Part One, the Clown serves as an anxiety/stress episode for Office Strode.


The clown's mouth stretched and showed rows of leech-like teeth - the teeth of a monster. The clown continued to shriek, and its high-pitched laughter teased the possibility of blowing a fuse.

The scene strives to not only pack on the terror and gory, but also show that anxiety and stress can manifest your pain into real-life horrors. His triggers became real to him. A real-life manifestation of horror so terrifying, not even him, a grown man, could handle it. Instead, he let the Clown drown him in fears and dread. He felt nausea and out of touch with his surroundings because he was in a trance due to the Clown's delusions.



My Not Another Sarah Halls Interview with Haley on the subject of her writing process:


E: Your writing style is so unique. Tell us about your writing process and brainstorming the words, terms, and creations you come up with for your novel.

H: Thank you very much. Similarly to how Stephen King weighs an idea for a book, I create some framework for a story mentally. This process can begin with a character and their unique abilities, a setting that drives the plot, or maybe even just a scenario that will build up with action and tension. Then, I turn to music, films, interviews with directors like Mike Flanagan, Jordan Peele, and Tim Burton for ideas or sentiments of characters or world-building elements. It's incredible how much inspiration you can acquire by listening to the greats in your genre.

I use this inspiration to create a series of scenes rather than chapters. Then, as I develop more scenes, I find new details or ideas for earlier pieces that allow them to become full-fledged chapters.

I also read a lot when I'm working on a novel of my own. It not only keeps me inspired but offers different tacts in integrating storytelling elements and conventions of the horror/dark-fiction genre that may be useful in my work.

Awhile after Office Strode comes face to face with a delusion so real his head throbs, he finally finds Teddy and an unexpected guest in the Warren Woods. The ending of Part Two blew me away, specifically the last 20 or so pages. In those pages is where Strode met his match with a young Teddy Blackwood and the outcome almost killed him. Yet, before finishing Part two it didn't feel like almost. I thought we had completely lost Strode from the story, and I was upset. No, really I was.


Over the course of Part Two, I found myself getting more and more invested in how Strode felt and what he would do next. I was eager for him to find the missing children, but I never expected it to nearly kill him. But one thing is for certain, Strode didn't imagine Teddy this time, he's alive and luring children into the Shadow's grasp.


Here's my utter shock response that I sent to Haley after finishing Part Two: GIRL! I almost thought you killed off Strode. I was like noooo. Then he woke up and it really was Teddy and the Shadow. Dude, what the heck.

PART THREE/FOUR



Back to Teddy and the Shadow. He is alive and dubbed a murderer by the police. Newlin keeps pulling me in, I am so invested.


I found myself rooting for Teddy to set himself free from the Shadow. Afterall, he is only a kid. He deserved a childhood, puberty, and adulthood. I wished so much for this character. But, like Pennywise and Georgie, the Shadow stripped Teddy of his innocence and turned him into a killing machine. Newlin didn't go lightly on creating Teddy's new characteristics. She took him from a shy and scared little kid to cold-blooded killer with ease and, might I add, grace. The Shadow is just as terrifying and taunting as Pennywise.


Monsters don't come in one form. They can be little pre-teens, dancing clowns in the sewer, or a demonic shadow in the basement - that way you'll never see them coming.



E: Earlier we talked about your serial killer research. Can you tell us what characteristics you mixed in your cauldron to create Teddy's killer instincts?


H: Childhood trauma is a core element in the psychological research of serial killers. This fact alone inspired me to create a child protagonist.


Charles Manson's cult, The Manson Family, followers believed him to be of some sort of divine instruction. They believed a war was coming and only Manson could prepare them for it or keep them safe. This fear is what turned everyday, middle-class young women into deranged cult followers/killers.


I used this dynamic to take a child, like Teddy, who had a reason to be afraid. Then, when he meets this entity of a seemingly higher power, he trusts it with next to no questions asked. This friendly trust soon becomes a dangerous reliance on one another - where Teddy kills for the Shadow, and the Shadow needs Teddy to kill to live.



The Maple Street Massacre shows readers that Teddy is far from done. He is just getting started. Up until this point, readers believe the Shadow is controlling Teddy, but it is soon relieved that Teddy needs to kill to feed his addiction to death.


It's just like all the games we play, Teddy. I go, and then you go. It's your turn. Take your turn, Teddy.

Teddy lives in a different world than we do, yet he reminds me of crime show killers from today's television watchlist. He is steady in his movements until his thirst for death becomes overbearing. He kills for pleasure and strength. Without death, Teddy can't feed the Shadow. In turn, the Shadow can't heal or protect Teddy. They become weak without kills because they live off death and gore. Each new kill brings him closer to the Shadow, their bond is the strongest in the book, by far.


I believe Teddy is more than a crime show killer, to me he resembles Ted Bundy. Bundy, among others, happens to be one of the high-profile serial killers in the 1970s that Newlin drew from while writing. Honestly, I thought of Bundy due to his name.


Ted Bundy - Teddy Blackwood.

TB - TB


Crazy, right? Did his name come from the famous 1970s serial killer or is it just a coincidence?


The sixties and seventies saw an immense change in how law enforcement investigated murders. Some of the most prolific and gruesome serial killers, like Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz, and Richard Speck, lurked in highways, hiking trails, dark streets, and for some, even locked homes. With some of the most brutal killers already captured and used as tools to study the mind of those drawn to carnage, the seventies became the perfect setting for Take Your Turn, Teddy. - Haley Newlin on Medium

Source: https://www.biography.com/people/groups/serial-killers



E: I have an itch that Teddy's name wasn't picked at random. Is Teddy named after Teddy Bundy or is his name a mix of the 1970s serial killers?


H: Teddy's name actually did not come from Ted Bundy! It dawned on me nearly six chapters in that I was creating a serial killer in the '70s named Teddy.

You and I have talked about books before, so you know my favorite novel of all time is Stephen King's IT. I initially created the idea of Take Your Turn, Teddy knowing I wanted to build a Georgie and Pennywise dynamic - the too trusting kid with the cunning monster. I thought, what would happen if it took Pennywise a little longer to season these kids - bad pun since he literally mauls Georgie to death.


No matter how many times I read this book, my heart aches every time for Georgie. So, I started there. Why do I love Georgie so much? What are little details that really build his image of innocence. For me, it started with that adorable name - Georgie.


Then, I began researching men's names where I could make them sort of cute - and I stumbled on Theodore.


It was only a moment later that I heard the shadow say, "Take your turn, Teddy," and the title was born!




PART FIVE/ EPILOGUE



E: How did you craft the ending of Teddy's story?


H: When I talked about this book being my Everest, the ending always comes to mind. I turned it in the day the novel was due to my publisher. I wrote five or six versions of it, and I wasn't happy with them. It honestly made me feel incredibly depressed. Ultimately, I determined I was having such a hard time writing it because I knew how things had to end...and it emotionally destroyed me. I had to take a solid month to mourn that ending before I was ready to celebrate the book



The end is near.


The murderer and the bodies come home to the Sterling Home. The place where the massacre of The Blackwood's and Warren's took place. Teddy brings the officer trio home after he receives a letter from Ali Abraham and he escapes back to home base. The unspeakable is revealed and Strode comes face-to-face with Teddy Blackwood for the first time. He is no longer the little innocent kid he was searching for but a cold-blooded killer.


I didn't see the end coming at all. Every mystery was revealed once the trio walked into Abraham's house. The gore was unbelievable. Nothing could have prepared me for the discoveries I had to make before Teddy was put in handcuffs or the losses endured prior to his jail sentence.


Mr. Abraham, a friend to all the neighbors and a friendly handyman, was hiding a dark secret. I didn't see him having a part in either of the murder cases - The Blackwood's and Warren's. Yet, he helped both men gone mad. Was it to protect his sweet Ali, or to keep the killers happy? He only thought of Ali's wellbeing, and he loved his daughter more than anything.


Through his confession, Office Strode found closer on both his cases. Mr. Warren's journal revealed where little Jackie's body was buried. Finally, he had peace knowing where she was all this time. Ali saved the day and still managed not to look down on Teddy. Honestly, I saw them growing up and getting married before the Shadow stole Teddy away from her. Sometimes life doesn't come with happy endings. Her dear friend turned into a killer, but she still had a heart of gold.


In the end, Teddy was no use to anyone or anything. The Shadow found a new mind to torture and turn into an even worse killer. Teddy was left to rot in a jail cell.


That last page blew my mind. The Teddy Blackwood we met in the beginning was no more. His story made my heart sank for him. He was only a pre-teen, who grew up to fast due to his father's cheating scandal. If only he had been given a chance to have a better life, would his life have gone in a different direction? We'll never know. But what we do know is Teddy was influenced by the Shadow until he became the man attached to the vicious killer demon he had befriended in his basement.


Newlin did it again.


She crafted a wholesome and unique character arch within a horror story that readers will devour. Even I, a Young Adult Reader and Author, absolutely love seeing the shift in Teddy's story. Not only can it be a coming-of-age tale, but it is an Adult Horror book that can teach even adults new lessons about mental health and childhood trauma. From Teddy's perceptive, readers can begin to dissect the inner gears of a serial killer's mind and how they became one.

NOT ANOTHER SARAH HALLS

REVIEW AND INTERVIEW

WITH HALEY NEWLIN


The opening to Not Another Sarah Halls even gives off lighter tones with the scare factor as an undertone, "The fog descended on Oakhaven the same way the apparent never-ending curse had - so quickly, no one saw it coming." Yet, the dark and cursed town gives off a sense of comfort, if only viewed from the hilltop as Autumn and Becca often did to escape the townspeople who had moved on too quickly from the missing girls' case. But for Autumn, more so than Becca, the long-forgotten girls were her crime obsession. She had to keep the hope alive even when the other townspeople went back to everyday life. By giving Autumn this trait, Newlin takes her readers through twists and turns via Autumn's psyche. Not only weaving in her fears but also her curiosity to find out the truth, Newlin captured the need to solve the most unsolvable cold cases. She lets us sit front and center as she teases us with the truth that was hidden so many years prior in the "dried-up oil town," known as Oakhaven.


Book Review

ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Newlin has published two novels, Not Another Sarah Halls and Take Your Turn, Teddy. Her love of all things dark and grim inspired Newlin to share the horror genre's inherent beauty through her writing.


https://www.haleynewlinauthor.com/





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